Five Queen’s Road
by Sorayya Khan
Train to India: Memories of another Bengal
by Maloy Krishna Dhar
Two new books touch upon the lesser-known aspects of the turbulent time of Partition. While Sorayya Khan’s sensitive novel is about the Hindu experience in Lahore before and immediately after Partition, Maloy Krishna Dhar’s autobiographical work tells the story of the tribulations of Bengalis during that time. Dhar, as a little boy, boards the train in Dacca, ostensibly headed to safety in Sylhet. The bloodbath and targeted killing of the Hindu minority that followed is a story that has yet to be fully told, more than six decades later.
Khan’s slow-paced tale, on the other hand, is understated but no less effective in conveying the brutality, alienation and loss of identity during those days. The poignant story of Dina Lal, a Lahori Hindu who refuses to leave his home as expected, is superbly told. His coping with his sons’ migrating to a newly carved India for their safety, the abduction of his wife Janoo, and his conversion to Islam to save his skin are narrated through the eyes of a Muslim colleague, Amir Shah, and his family, who have moved in to Five Queen’s Road as ‘protection’ for Dina Lal. The sprawling house with its immaculate garden, itself a relic of the Raj, is as much a character in this many-layered book of human relationships as any other. (Laxmi Murthy)
Education in Nepal:Problems, Reforms and Social Change
edited by Pramod Bhatta
Martin Chautari, 2009
Despite the claim that there is plenty of scholarship on education in Nepal, this collection of writing highlights how difficult it is to keep up with the drastic changes in the political and social landscape of this small but unpredictable country. With pieces spread across over a decade, the political commentary feels dated at times. Moreover, political considerations may distract from underlying problems. For instance, Martha Caddell’s piece that cleverly employs the motif of schools as battlefield – both metaphorically in the ideological sense and in reality by describing the political uses of violence on schools sites by the Maoists – fails to take up an analysis of unions and the labour conditions of teachers.
The more robust pieces in the collection contextualise education quite successful across historical changes. Pramod Bhatta’s excellent review on decentralisation critically assesses the discursive employment of the concept, combined with effective on-the-ground observations. Pratyoush Onta takes on the flip-side of the concept, with an interesting reflection of the centralisation and nationalisation of schools during the Panchayat system of the 60s by investigating history textbooks at the time. One particularly interesting thread that the reader encounters is a critique of the influence of foreign aid on educational policy and the problems of developmental interventions. The collection might point to the disciplinary narrowness of the field, but for an introduction to the issues of education in Nepal, one would be hard-pressed to find a better place to start. (Alston A. D’Silva)
R. K. Narayan
This is one of those books that make a reader take a trip down the memory lane. Malgudi may only be an archetypal town in Deccan where people meet, things happen and destiny unfolds, all in slow motion. But emotions of school-age children everywhere are similar. Teachers face challenges, discover joys and learn to cope. Parents have their predicaments.
And everyone grows as they confront each other and learn to adjust. The story also tells that formal teaching may take place inside school compounds, but most of learning is done in everyday life. A most delightful book with arresting illustrations by R. K. Laxman that every Southasian teacher, parent and students will find instructive.(CK Lal)
Hamra Hajurama: Our Grandmothers
Often, memories of lived experiences are anchored in a sea of nostalgia, usually revisited with delicacy, and filled with concern about destabilising upheavals the proprietor of the stories may feel. For a project – coordinated by NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati, co-founder of the Kathmandu-based photographer’s platform photo.circle – that comes so close to the past, Hamra Hajurma is neither sentimental nor discreet. Seven photographers and six writers narrate the stories of twelve grandmothers in Nepal from different geographic and social backgrounds, telling of times of tribulation, misfortune and reticence. Being women who have endured, the grandmothers share their stories not in wistful reminiscence, but rather in encouraging pragmatism and a hope for better days. Many, like 60 year-old Dilshara Budha Magar from Rukum, would have had more opportunities available to them, like education, if born in a different era. Yet, despite being illiterate and relatively poor, Dilshara dreams of travelling and seeing the new world.
It is surprising to witness private histories conceded to an anonymous public with such ease – only one writer is confronted by a “silent rebuff” upon inquiring about one grandmother’s life. And in the rebuttal an answer is found: “She knows that to allow me to tell her story is to let me decide what her life is about, to let me fix her and wield control over her.” One can only hope that the exercise results in a feeling of liberation rather than that of being confined by their narrative. (Smriti Mallapaty)